It’s not about the music, it’s about what drives us to make that music…
Since I was a small girl, I’ve always dreamt of becoming a singer. Some of my earliest memories include receiving my first karaoke machine, setting a “stage” for myself anywhere I could and singing for anyone who even pretended to listen or care. I sang for the love of music, I sang for the love of singing and of course, I sang for the spotlight. I didn’t have any social mores nor was I trying to spread any sort of message…I was five. I sang for completely selfish reasons because that’s what five year olds do.
So jump to my adolescent years, my love for music and performing had only grown fonder and my view on the world was starting to shift into something fervent with hormonal activity. It was then when I started to really understand why people threw their heart and soul into their music and suddenly, my love for the art had much more substance. With this, I quickly fell in love with any band, artist or musician that stood out to me. Every word sang sank deep into my heart and at an age where I was especially green and responsive, I took it seriously. I trusted these musicians more than…almost anyone. I didn’t even know them as people, I just knew their music.
Lauryn Hill was an exceptionally strong figure for me. Her delicate but full-bodied vocals graced heavenly over the rapping gentlemen who made up the rest of The Fugees. After taking off on a solo career, my respect and love for her remained steadfast as she spouted off lyrics that spoke to both my heart and my head. She was a strong female kicking asses and taking names in an industry run by men and I wanted to be just like her…
…and then I heard it: the rumor circulating in which claimed that Lauryn was racist. The inflammatory remark when she supposedly said that she would rather see children starve than have white people buy her album flipped my stomach inside out. I was thirteen, uber passionate about music, in the process of still constructing own personal standards and meanwhile “going out” with a boy whose skin color was opposite of my own…I tossed every CD and cassette that her name was printed on. I was crushed and infuriated that someone that I held in such high regard could be so heartless and crude. I took it personally as a white girl who purchased her albums and I swore that I would never support her again.
Well, Google didn’t exist then. I did not research to investigate the claims. Whether the rumors held any merit didn’t even cross my mind. I still don’t know the truth nor do I care as I am much more aware of the dangers of public media, how easily words can be misconstrued and the fact that people just say stupid shit. I am totally desensitized at my age today, but I do know that the effect of that situation changed my world.
My case scenario was possibly the best that could happen…it only strengthened my disgust for racial intolerance. However, we all know that the statement that Lauryn did or did not make also had the opposite effect on some of her followers. “If Lauryn hates white people, I should too!” ….right?
As musicians, we must be mindful of every move we make and word we say. Unless you are absolutely sure that you don’t have a bone in your body that cares about our youth and the future of our society, your words must be meticulous. Even success on a small local scale could easily impact a few hundred teenagers with the instant access that social media provides us today. It’s a large task that not everyone is up to, understandably, but it’s an important one to say the least. Exposure in the public eye comes with responsibilities that, unfortunately, many musicians use irresponsibly.
As humans, we are bound to make mistakes and it would be extremely difficult to live your life watching every P and Q, but it comes down to basic ethics. I don’t care if you are as musically diverse or as richly versed as Johann Sebastian Bach, if your voice speaks for intolerance, ignorance, greediness or unacceptance of any kind, I can not stand by you. If your personal goals do not strive to enrich humanity or create some kind of community, the music that you make will only reflect that.
We have to turn things around…I’ll start with myself.